Natural Health and Wellness for the Whole Family

Fighting Sugar Cravings and Regulating Blood Sugar Levels

By Aidanne MacDonald-Milewski, ND July 22, 2020

Almost everyone has experienced a food craving and, more often than not, people gravitate toward sugar or sweets to satiate this appetite. Cravings can stem from consistent sugar consumption but also can have underlying causes such as pre-diabetes, adrenal fatigue, hormonal imbalance, candida overgrowth, etc.

Sugar Metabolism & Bodily Impact

When eating something high in sugars or carbohydrates, the brain’s reward pathway is activated and your body produces hormones such as serotonin, dopamine and endorphins that exude a sense of happiness in the body. This connection of happiness from consumption of foods is imprinted in the amygdala (i.e. the association center of the brain) and committed to the hippocampus (i.e. the memory center of the brain). Repeated exposure to this stimulus leads to an addiction, which can be really hard to break.1

In addition to the brain’s response to sugar consumption, the body takes a metabolic hit from its effects. When sugar or high carbohydrate foods are eaten, blood sugar levels rise and insulin is secreted from the pancreas with the goal of removing that sugar from the blood and storing it in your tissues. Once glucose is stored, your blood sugar levels decrease until the next time you eat.


How Important is Blood Sugar Regulation?

Over time, blood sugar spikes and dips throughout the day can lead to a state blood sugar disregulation and eventually insulin resistance.

Insulin resistance prevents glucose in the blood from being stored in muscle and fat cells and, instead, ensures that the glucose in the blood stream stays there. Prolonged elevated blood glucose can lead to fatigue, diabetes, immune system dysfunction, cognitive impairment, inflammation, increased cancer risk, and obesity. This can also contribute to worsening of mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression and schizophrenia.1


How Can I Manage My Cravings and Blood Sugar Levels?

Here are a few ideas to get you started in managing your sugar cravings and regulating your blood sugar levels:

1. Protein + Fiber

Every time you eat, there should be some form of protein and ideally fiber in the snack or meal. Protein in the diet not only increases satiety to prevent sugar cravings but, along with fiber, it has been shown to delay the time needed for glucose to enter the blood stream. Therefore, it helps to mitigate significant blood sugar and insulin spikes after meals.2

Here are a few snack ideas that fit this pairing:

  • Chopped carrots, celery or cucumbers with hummus or black bean dip
  • Apples or celery with 2 tbsp of nut butter
  • ½ cup of plain Greek yogurt with ¼ cup of berries and 1-2 tbsp of ground flax or chia seeds

Be sure to talk with your Naturopathic doctor to explore which meal and snack ideas would be best for you!

2. Berberine

Berberine is a bitter compound found in various herbs including goldenseal (Hydrastus canadensis), Oregon grape (Berberis aquifolium), barberry (Berberis vulgaris), etc. It has been shown to increase insulin receptors as well as AMPK activation, which allows glucose to move from the blood to be used for energy in muscle cells.4

A pilot study from 2008 showed that 3-months of taking Berberine resulted in fasting and post-meal blood sugar lowering effects similar to metformin in those with type 2 diabetes mellitus.3 Additionally, studies have shown its glucose balancing and insulin sensitizing effects in those with PCOS, hypertension, and high cholesterol.5,6

3. Cinnamon

Cinnamon is a tasty spice that has been shown to have modest insulin regulating and blood sugar lowering effects.7 Therefore, it can serve as an easy dietary add-on to support blood sugar balance and for those already on hypoglycemic medications.  

4. Exercise

Exercise is a fundamental component of health that has a positive impact on all facets of health, including blood sugar regulation and metabolism. Engaging in exercise pushes muscles to utilize the glucose in their cells for energy, and drives an increased demand for cellular glucose levels.8 This promotes the transfer of glucose in the blood to muscle cells, thereby supporting blood glucose regulation. The more frequently and vigorously you exercise, the greater effect this has but remember to find a form of exercise that is most motivating and enjoyable for you!

To learn more about which blood sugar balancing methods will be best suited for you and your lifestyle, consult your Naturopathic Doctor!


References:

1. Jacques A, Chaaya N, Beecher K, Ali SA, Belmer A, Bartlett S. The impact of sugar consumption on stress driven, emotional and addictive behaviors. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2019;103:178-199.

2. Bae JH, Kim LK, Min SH, Ahn CH, Cho YM. Postprandial glucose-lowering effect of premeal consumption of protein-enriched, dietary fiber-fortified bar in individuals with type 2 diabetes mellitus or normal glucose tolerance. J Diabetes Investig. 2018;9(5):1110-1118.

3. Yin J, Xing H, Ye J. Efficacy of berberine in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Metabolism. 2008;57(5):712-717. doi:10.1016/j.metabol.2008.01.013

4. Coughlan KA, Valentine RJ, Ruderman NB, Saha AK. AMPK activation: a therapeutic target for type 2 diabetes?. Diabetes Metab Syndr Obes. 2014;7:241-253. Published 2014 Jun 24. doi:10.2147/DMSO.S43731

5. Xie L, Zhang D, Ma H, et al. The Effect of Berberine on Reproduction and Metabolism in Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Control Trials. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2019;2019:7918631. Published 2019 Dec 13. doi:10.1155/2019/7918631

6. Lan J, Zhao Y, Dong F, et al. Meta-analysis of the effect and safety of berberine in the treatment of type 2 diabetes mellitus, hyperlipemia and hypertension. J Ethnopharmacol. 2015;161:69-81.

7. Ceylon Cinnamon. Natural Medicines Database. Reviewed June 24, 2020.

8. Sylow L, Kleinert M, Richter EA, Jensen TE. Exercise-stimulated glucose uptake – regulation and implications for glycaemic control. Nat Rev Endocrinol. 2017;13(3):133-148.

Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health practitioners with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.


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